Vampapire | Julián Ríos



Julián Ríos

Every now and then, from 1964 onwards, Saura ceases to paint on canvas for long periods and devotes himself exclusively to working on paper. Thus it is that he enters and leaves what we might call his “prison of paper.” And also “the tower of paper” (to give it a proper name) in which the most varied languages can be intermingled. Saura’s work on paper is of great richness and intensity, and very extensive. On the other hand, in this work on paper the protagonists of his canvases stick to their roles: Philip II, Rembrandt, Goya’s dog, Dora Maar, crucifixions, a motley collection of ladies, crowds…

                     —For me, painting on paper, he says, has been as important as painting on canvas, fundamental…

Already in 1964 the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam organized a retrospective exhibition of Saura’s paintings on paper and prints from the decade 1954-1964.

And then there is this other decade devoted exclusively to paper, 1968-1978, in which he created large imaginary portraits, series as characteristic as those of La Quinta del Sordo or Moi.

In the great retrospective of 1980 at the Sala Tiepolo in Madrid, this work on paper, for example the Montages of 1974 and 1975, is not dwarfed by the canvases. In actual fact canvas and paper complemented each other, were dialoguing in harmony. So I wanted to know why, exactly, he’d broken away for so many years from the canvas, why that horror vacui before the whiteness of the canvas, the horror before whiteness that Mallarmé, Melville and Poe expressed so well… Canvas-shroud? Canvas-spider’s web, canvas-trap? Let’s examine some more or less reasonable hypotheses. The conditioned reflexes of the first paintings on paper in Paris, when the artist was unable to buy canvases? A flair for breaking and tearing? Perchance paper permitted him the spontaneity a sketch does, did away with the painterly manner and attitude before the canvas upon which one has to paint “for real.”

Not long ago, on the occasion of the retrospective of Saura’s work on paper (1948-1988) at the Wiener Secession in Vienna, we once again questioned that and other suppositions. I asked him if he found a psychological, personal explanation for his attachment to paper during those ten years:

—It’s very odd because in a way it corresponds to a problem of personal crisis, it’s when I separated from Madeleine, my first wife. But I think it was also due to leading a much more nomadic life.

—The papers could be carted around with greater ease…

—Yes. Basically, the only possible explanation is that paper took possession of me and a moment arrived in which I felt psychically and physically unable to work on canvas.

—As you say, paper took possession of you, I’m going to call it vampapire. The paper that vampirizes you…

Vampapire, sure. We’ll do a book together with that title…

And in Cuenca, in the summer of 1978, he goes back to painting on canvas. The rough surface no longer inspires fear in him but it does invite suspicion and he approaches it with caution. Has he lost his touch? Between one canvas and another he rediscovers the interlinings of his painting.[1] Saura’s old personae, Madre Jerónima de la Fuente, Pacheco, Goya’s dog, come to his assistance and he begins to paint a series of imaginary portraits.

Now, on this afternoon in early July 1989, Saura prepares his studio in Cuenca, impatient to get the battle on the canvas under way, following the parentheses of cataract operations in both eyes.

But he’ll also have to rummage through his papers, to fight with paper,[2] in a host of printmaking projects that are pressing. No, one cannot escape, as Picasso would say, that other aspect also possessed by the vampapire.



[1] As well as in the title Vampapire, a neologism, novelist Julian Ríos’s affection for wordplay is evident, here, in the Spanish original: Entre tela y tela vuelve a descubrir

las entretelas de su pintura. As well as interlinings, entretelas can also mean the innermost being of something [Trans].

[2] Ditto Rios’s wordplay in papelear, pelear con papel [Trans].

Published in Saura. Tragedy & Creation  Barcelona, 2018. Mayoral. p 26.